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US grants Israeli prof a patent for tech that could lead to virus vaccine

Tel Aviv University’s Jonathan Gershoni says his technology targets the mechanism coronavirus uses to infiltrate human cells, making it particularly effective

Magen David Adom medical team members, wearing protective gear, handle a coronavirus test from patients in Jerusalem, April 17, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Magen David Adom medical team members, wearing protective gear, handle a coronavirus test from patients in Jerusalem, on April 17, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted a researcher at Tel Aviv University a patent for technology that he says could lead to the development of a vaccine for COVID-19 in a matter of months.

“The vaccine targets the novel coronavirus’s Achilles’ heel, its Receptor Binding Motif (RBM), a critical structure that enables the virus to bind to and infect a target cell,” TAU said in a statement Sunday announcing the development.

“The vaccine would reconstruct the coronavirus’s RBM,” the statement said. By reconstructing the RBM, the immune system can learn how to block the real virus from cells when it enters the body.

Professor Jonathan Gershoni, of the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology at the university’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, told The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, Zman, that there is already interest from pharmaceutical companies in the method he is developing.

Professor Jonathan Gershoni, of the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology at Tel Aviv University’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. (Zman)

Gershoni, who has researched viruses and their interaction with human receptors for 35 years, honed his skills during the outbreak of SARS in 2004 and MERS in 2012, both of which are from the same virus family as the current pandemic.

Using that research, his team has developed the RBM-based method that he believes could be particularly effective.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, “caught us prepared,” he said. “In a short time, we will be able to adapt our approach as a platform for developing an innovative and effective vaccine.”

He said the vaccine he is working on will provide the human immune system with a “more targeted” way to block the virus.

Gershoni said that to take the patented method forward to produce a vaccine will require a pharmaceutical company to develop the technology.

“It needs a company that understands how to integrate our template for a vaccine into their product,” he explained. “That is something that can take months. Not a long time.”

“As soon as we can put it into practice and prove that we have managed to recreate the construct that we are trying to build, a company can adopt it and reach an agreement with us,” he said.

There is a company that has taken an interest, “but of course it is too early to talk about it.”

After that, the vaccine would need to go through the usual process of getting FDA approval, Gershoni noted, but added that there may be ways to shorten the time-frame, at least by a little.

COVID-19 has killed over 165,000 people across the globe and nearly four million have been infected.

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